Stephen Romei

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

When it comes to who will be named best ac­tor at the 91st Academy Awards, put down the glasses. Amer­i­can ac­tor Rami Malek must win for be­ing Fred­die Mer­cury in Bryan Singer’s out­stand­ing rock biopic Bo­hemian Rhap­sody.

I can’t re­mem­ber the last time I have been so gripped by an ac­tor’s per­for­mance, from the first frame to the last. Ma­lik, who worked with a move­ment coach and wore pros­thetic teeth, is Fred­die Mer­cury, front­man of the rock group Queen, from the over­bite down. He does some of the singing, too, though ac­tual Queen record­ings, some of which have not been re­leased be­fore, dom­i­nate the sound­track.

The scene where Far­rokh/Fred­die, be­fore he adds Mer­cury, shyly ra­tio­nalises his teeth — “More space in my mouth means more range” — would work as the Os­cars night clip. So would lots of oth­ers: his quiet smile as he starts to write Bo­hemian Rhap­sody, his un­usual first gig with the pub band that would be­come Queen, his acer­bic ex­changes with an EMI ex­ec­u­tive (Mike My­ers, who has some of the fun­ni­est lines), his late ex­change with his strict fa­ther. He car­ries him­self with such cer­tainty, as a frag­ile yet self-con­fi­dent man, some­one who could be, as one of his band­mates says, a “to­tal prick”, or some­one who could rock the world.

Per­haps the most telling line comes from the per­sonal man­ager who later sold out the star: “He’s still just a scared Paki boy,” he tells a tele­vi­sion in­ter­viewer. Mer­cury was not from Pak­istan. His par­ents were Par­sis from what was Bo­hemian Rhap­sody (M) Na­tional re­lease Wildlife (M) Lim­ited re­lease then Bri­tish In­dia. Yet that ob­ser­va­tion, though wrong about his eth­nic back­ground, feels true.

Some com­men­ta­tors have crit­i­cised this movie for “hid­ing” Mer­cury’s ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity. All I can say in re­sponse is they must have seen a dif­fer­ent movie to the one I saw.

When he and a trucker check each other out at an Amer­i­can gas sta­tion and then head into the gents to­gether, I don’t think they are go­ing there just to dis­cuss the hit pa­rade. It’s a deft, com­pelling scene. In a con­fronta­tion with his girl­friend (Lucy Boyn­ton) he says he is bi­sex­ual. She re­sponds, sym­pa­thet­i­cally, “You’re gay.”

He tongue-kisses men. That per­sonal as­sis­tant ar­ranges male one-night stands in their hun­dreds, and later talks about them. Mer­cury con­tracts AIDS, which as we all know killed him in 1991, aged 45.

What more do the crit­ics want? Do they re­quire to be taken into the gents to see the trucker fel­late Freddy, or vice versa, to “re­veal” his sex­u­al­ity? If that did hap­pen, I’m sure a dif­fer­ent bunch of crit­ics would protest about overt ho­mo­sex­ual sex on the screen. Some peo­ple just need a rea­son to com­plain.

Mer­cury was not part of the gay pride move­ment. This is a movie about him as one of the great­est per­form­ers in rock ’n’ roll. It opens and closes with Queen’s as­ton­ish­ing per­for­mance in the Live Aid con­cert at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium in 1985. He is an out­sider, a mis­fit. He chooses the band name Queen “be­cause it’s out­ra­geous and I can’t think of any­one more out­ra­geous than me”. When singing, when per­form­ing, he is “ex­actly the per­son I was al­ways meant to be”.

While this is a movie about Mer­cury, the other band mem­bers are not put in the back­ground. It is not a ha­giog­ra­phy. Ben Hardy is par­tic­u­larly good as drum­mer Roger Tay­lor. His mul­ti­ple takes singing the “Galileo” bit in the record­ing of Bo­hemian Rhap­sody are hi­lar­i­ous. It is clear the other band mem­bers were in­stru­men­tal in the songs that made Queen.

The band had its trou­bles, par­tic­u­larly when Mer­cury walked out to start a solo ca­reer. There’s a life-im­i­tat­ing-art-im­i­tat­ing-life bit here, as al­though Singer is cred­ited as the di­rec­tor, he was sacked be­fore the movie was fin­ished. English ac­tor and film­maker Dex­ter Fletcher, who was the ini­tial di­rec­tor but left after dis­agree­ments, re­turned to fin­ish the job.

Ma­lik landed the lead role only after Sacha Baron Co­hen quit the project and his sug­gested re­place­ment, Ben Whishaw, de­cided not to take the role. I think it’s a case of third time lucky.

This is not a per­fect movie. The script is a lit­tle limp in parts and the merg­ing of real events into the film doesn’t al­ways work. But such small prob­lems are blown away by Malek’s 10star per­for­mance. I left the cinema fee­ing a lit­tle bit like Fred­die Mer­cury, which is re­mark­able, not least be­cause I can’t sing a note. Rami Malek as Fred­die Mer­cury in Bo­hemian Rhap­sody, left; above, Carey Mul­li­gan, Ed Ox­en­bould and Jake Gyl­len­haal in Wildlife When it come to ris­ing stars, there’s an­other one in Wildlife, the di­rec­to­rial de­but of ac­claimed Amer­i­can ac­tor Paul Dano.

Ed Ox­en­bould, a 17-year-old Syd­neysider, is re­mark­able to watch. His pres­ence has been noted at home and abroad: his movie de­but was op­po­site Steve Carell and Jen­nifer Garner in Alexan­der and the Ter­ri­ble, Hor­ri­ble, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014). Back home he made Pa­per Planes (2015) along­side Sam Wor­thing­ton and David Wen­ham. The same year M. Night Shya­malan cast him in the hor­ror movie The Visit.

In Wildlife, based on the novella by Richard Ford, he is the 14-year-old son of a 30-some­thing cou­ple who in 1960 move to Great Falls, Mon­tana, at the edge of the Rocky Moun­tains.

Mum (Carey Mul­li­gan) and dad (Jake Gyl­len­haal) have their dif­fi­cul­ties. There seem to be bar­ri­ers be­tween them. Joe is old enough to have some idea of what is go­ing on. It’s the first time I have seen Ox­en­bould play a boy on the cusp of adult­hood, and he does it su­perbly.

The largely un­seen char­ac­ter in this movie is a fire burn­ing out of con­trol in the moun­tains. In an early scene Joe, the new boy at school, takes notes as a ranger talks about fire safety. A school­mate tells him not to bother. “If a fire ever gets to us,’’ she says, “it will be too late.” The same might be said of the flames in­side peo­ple.

Joe’s dad, sacked from his job at the golf club, leaves the fam­ily and heads off to join the men fight­ing the fire. Joe’s mum re­sponds in a way that soon makes it clear she’s not the but­toned­down wife and mother we first think she is. There’s a rich man in town (a bril­liant, nu­anced Bill Camp), who comes on the scene.

Joe sees it all. He’s un­cer­tain and un­com­fort­able with what’s hap­pen­ing but doesn’t have the power to change it. Be­ing based on a Ford novel, this is an in­te­rior movie, which be­came a fac­tor in the cast­ing. In one in­ter­view, Dano, who cowrote the script with his ac­tor-writer wife Zoe Kazan, said Ox­en­bould’s au­di­tion tape was one of the last ones he saw. He was the “only kid who could fill the space be­tween the lines”.

“I never thought we would cast a kid from Aus­tralia in this very Amer­i­can film,’’ he said. “He’s a real ac­tor.” Dano, a real ac­tor him­self, is dead right about that.

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